In today’s hyper-fast media climate, who has time to wait for the Super Bowl to actually see the commercials?
There are a few advertisers who will make us wait until the Big Game to see their wares – Snickers plans a live commercial with Adam Driver which will be Must See TV whether it works or not. Weeks ago, many advertisers started posting online teasers, previews and actual commercials airing in Sunday’s game. (Beermaker Anheuser-Busch reportedly held a “media briefing” on its ads strategy with journalists last month).
Makes sense. These companies are paying up to $5 million for 30 seconds of advertising time to the Fox network for space in a game that is often the most-watched TV event of the year. With that much at stake, a media strategy that doesn’t include some pre-game day viewing seems like a missed opportunity.
Just like with TV shows, ads that move audiences can tell us a lot about what values inspire or alarm us. And those notions can change on a dime – I’m betting Anheuser-Busch never expected its inspiring story about the immigration struggles of founder Adolphus Busch to be seen as a dig at President Donald Trump.
But it’s tough to watch scenes in its ad titled “Born the Hard Way,” where Busch initially faces angry Americans telling him, “you’re not wanted here… go back home,” without thinking of Trump’s executive order on immigration and the fiery debate it has kicked off.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting Super Bowl commercials coming Sunday – including a few that are compelling for reasons their creators likely never intended.
Bud Light: Ghost Spuds. The Weird But Kinda Works award goes to Budweiser for its ad featuring the ghost of its former Bud Light mascot, the party dog Spuds MacKenzie, voiced by actor Carl Weathers. At first, it’s odd to be reminded that the dog which actually played the original Spuds in late 1980s ads is no longer with us. But watching the “ghost” lead a schlubby guy to realize the value of friendship through beer is kinda entertaining – and pretty much the spirit of a lot of Super Bowl revelry.
Audi: Daughter. As the father of three daughters, I was all in for this ad featuring a young girl beating several boys to win a downhill cart race while her dad voices fears about how sexism will affect her, asking, “do I tell her… she will automatically be valued as less than every man she meets?” By the time the screen announces “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work,” I’m drying my eyes and thinking about a vehicle upgrade.
Ford: Go Further. Complaints about commercialism may seem quaint these days. But it’s still jarring to see Ford use Nina Simone’s rendition of the civil rights anthem “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” to illustrate scenes where people are frustrated by being stuck in traffic or locked out of the house. When Simone sang about wanting to “break all the chains holding me,” I don’t think she meant sidestepping traffic tie-ups.
Mercedes-Benz USA: Easy Driver. One notch down the commercialism disappointment scale, we find the Mercedes-Benz ad featuring Peter Fonda. Stories about Baby Boomers selling out are nothing new. But it’s still odd to see a guy who once embodied ’60s counter culture in Easy Rider star in a commercial with hordes of bikers acting like knuckleheads until they are struck dumb by the sight of a relatively clean-cut Fonda, peeling out of a parking lot in a $350,000 AMG-GT Roadster. Insult to injury: the commercial was directed by Fargo‘s Oscar-winning filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen.
Honda: Yearbooks. Lots of celebrities are doing lots of interesting ads (it seems like New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski pops up in every other commercial). But my award for Best Use of a Big Name goes to this ad, which animates old, mostly embarrassing high school yearbook photos of celebrities like Robert Redford, Amy Adams and Viola Davis to tell viewers dreams really do come true. Even for guys geeky enough to try rocking the pornstar moustache Steve Carrell sports in his photo (“You think any of these folks believed that I’d make it?” he asks. Surely not.)
Squarespace: Who is JohnMalkovich.com? I’m always telling journalism students to get ownership of their name as a URL for their websites soon as possible. So it was a tickle to see John Malkovich in this ad begging a fisherman to let him have his own name back. Extra points to Malkovich for always being willing to poke fun at his own eccentric image.
Febreeze: Halftime #BathroomBreak. We all know what happens in bathrooms across the country between the halftime whistle and halftime show. Do we really need a TV commercial to remind us some air freshener may be needed?
84 Lumber: The Journey Begins. This 90-second ad features a Spanish-speaking mother and her young daughter enduring loads of hardships – jumping on trains, walking long distances, crossing rushing streams – to reach their destination. The company has said Fox rejected the original version of the ad, which included images of a border wall similar to the one President Trump has promised to erect between Mexico and the U.S. Now 84 Lumber’s website promises it will feature the full ad at halftime, with “content deemed too controversial for TV.” The wall-less version which will air on Fox Sunday certainly humanizes people who are too often reduced to stereotypes in today’s immigration debates. I don’t know how much lumber this ad will sell, but it will surely earn loads of attention.